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An estimated 4-minute read

Shifting boundaries of freedom on Internet.

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More than 70 people have died across 11 countries.[1] Four American including one senior diplomat killed in Libya and US warships are already on the coast of Libya.[2] Western Countries including US, UK and France are shutting down their embassies in Islamic Countries due to the threat of more retaliation to the video titled "Innocence of Muslims" uploaded on YouTube.

YouTube refused a request from White House to block access to the video claiming that it would be infringement of freedom of expression.[3] Everyone agrees that websites like YouTube and Facebook have been of great use to people across the Arab world and they provided the much needed platform to suppressed voices during the Arab Spring but are they doing more harm than good in the name freedom of expression.

It all begin on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers when armed men claiming to be protesting against the video attacked the US embassy in Benghazi and killed the US Ambassador. These people claimed that they were protesting against the trailer of the movie "Innocence of Muslims" uploaded on YouTube by a user named Sam Bacile in July 2012. After some investigation by US agencies it is clear the video was uploaded Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who is a Coptic Christian immigrant from Egypt. Coptic Christians in Egypt have always been in conflict with the Muslim majority of the country and the purpose of the video appears to propagate hatred towards Muslims and also to provoke Muslims by showing Mohammad in bad light. Most of the actors and crew were duped into doing the film and none were aware of the complete picture and intention of the director.

The idealistic solution to the problem would be a more tolerant and open-minded international community which understands the ulterior motives behind the video and decides to ignore it, instead of protesting against a specific country but we are far away from reaching such state of awareness and it is quite easy for fundamental groups across the globe to provoke violent reaction to such content and then use them for  their own benefits. Therefore, there arises a need for some control over the internet and its content.

The Internet today is a globally spread network comprising of many voluntarily connected networks. There is no international body to govern the internet or lay down rules except Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)[4] which only deals with domain name and other stuff that is required to maintain the internet but not the content. The only control over the Internet the Sovereigns have is through their local legislations.

Countries across the world have widely conflicting approaches to regulating speeches they consider offensive or inflammatory. Countries like US have an extremely liberal approach towards the content on Internet. The First amendment to the US Constitution[5] prohibits any law impeding the freedom of speech and thus there aren't any laws to regulate content on Internet except an array of laws dealing with piracy and copyright infringement. Whereas countries like India and Indonesia with populations belonging to diverse communities have enacted laws like the Information Technology Act, 2000 - which Indian Government used to block the particular video and has also used in past to remove content from Facebook and twitter. India can categorize the content as a threat to public order and curb it. This is where the problem arises, India has the sufficient resources (technical capabilities and Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with USA[6]) to force big corporations like Google with their servers in US to comply with local laws or face a complete ban but what about countries like Libya, Egypt and even Pakistan in this case. Most of the countries which faced violent protest and suffered the most damage, don't have legal process, technical capabilities and requisite agreements[7] in place to control content on Internet. Therefore, many countries have a valid reasons to ask for International Regulations to curb the misuse of the Internet to disturb the internal peace in more volatile regions of the world.

This rising voice for Internet Regulation acquires a lot more significance because of the timing of the event. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a Geneva-based U.N. specialized agency is organizing the World Conference On International Telecommunications, 2012 in December.[8] The conference is going to concentrate on treaty writing with respect to various issues relating to the Internet. ITU has 193 members and many influential players like India, China and Russia have already made it clear that they are going to push for more expansion of jurisdiction and legal authority of ITU.[9] With lack of any veto power in the hands of countries like US (the so-called protector of freedom on Internet) it is highly likely that many countries belonging to the Arab region may  argue that Google and Facebook are not competent to decide what's safe and what is not and therefore back India and China in their demand for more regulation.

Thus, the Internet as we know it today may undergo a transition faster than most of us may anticipate and looking at the present scenario these changes may be a step towards more peaceful world .

You can read a critique at http://lawlogicommonsense.blogspot.com

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_diplomatic_missions_attacks

[2] http://www.firstpost.com/world/live-diplomatic-enclave-breached-in-pak-over-anti-us-film-462705.html

[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnclarke/2012/09/15/google-refuses-white-house-request-to-pull-anti-islamic-film/

[4] http://www.icann.org/en/about

[5] http://www.ala.org/offices/oif/firstamendment/firstamendment

[6] http://acfcs.org/sites/default/files/United%20States%20Mutual%20Legal%20Assistance%20Treaties.pdf

[7] Pakistan's request to YouTube to block the content was turned down due to the lack of MLAT between US and Pakistan. http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/columns/21-Sep-2012/innocence-of-muslims

[8] http://cnsnews.com/news/article/internet-regulation-returns-international-agenda

[9] http://www.whoswholegal.com/news/features/article/29378/the-2012-world-conference-international-telecommunications-brewing-storm-potential-un-regulation-internet/

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